Double Take: Should hate speech be protected under the First Amendment?

GENISIA TING / AGGIE

YES — Taryn DeOilers

 

The ongoing battle between alt-right firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos and left-leaning university students encapsulates the national debate on whether hate speech should continue to be safeguarded in the United States. While it’s critical to denounce the vile sentiments Yiannopoulos belches out on campuses across America, the preservation of free speech for all individuals remains paramount to our democracy.

The exceptions are, of course, cases in which insults lurch toward explicit, deliberate threats of violence called “fighting words.” Otherwise, Americans can freely ridicule people based on characteristics like religion, gender and race without fear of being legally punished. Although this seems immoral, the First Amendment has existed to protect speech that’s controversial, aggravating and inflammatory — not speech that’s comfortable, ethical and well-liked.

It’s crucial to recognize that silencing even the ugliest words would set a precedent for future lawmakers for permissible censorship. Because laws can be twisted and reinterpreted as time progresses, the same legislation that strips rights from those who spew offensive rhetoric could easily revoke the protection of more moderate speech.

Most importantly, unsavory expression is merely a symptom of the underlying concern, and those who espouse it wouldn’t vanish with the swipe of a pen. Concealing hate speech wouldn’t eradicate the hate — it would just attempt to hide the speech. We must confront the source of evil if we wish to witness true change, and how can we successfully fight what we cannot see with perfect clarity?

John Stuart Mill argues in his philosophical work On Liberty that the free exchange of ideas — even despicable ones — is essential to arriving at a “clearer perception and livelier impression of truth [that can only be] produced by its collision with error.” For all of us who detest bigotry, living in a country where love, hate, truth and falsehood are equally provided a podium can be distressing and disheartening. But as Mill declares, tolerance and reason, when given the opportunity to exhibit their veracity over ignorance, will ultimately transcend and irrevocably disprove the cowardly hate behind which fools like Yiannopoulos stand.

 

Written by: Taryn DeOilers — tldeoilers@ucdavis.edu

 

NO — Jazmin Garcia

 

Allow me to clear up what this argument isn’t. This stance does not endorse the persecution of those who perpetuate hate speech, nor does it advocate censorship. It simply answers the ethical implications of tolerating hate speech and the demoralizing effects of this speech insofar that it divides and endangers people.

While adverse opinions are necessary for fruitful discussion and for understanding different points of view, hate speech normalizes antagonistic depictions of marginalized people. After all, hate speech is defined by the American Bar Association as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other traits.” Often, those who defend hate speech have some degree of privilege, so this defense does little in bridging the divide and fostering understanding between communities.

It would be fallacious to say that those who believe in protecting hate speech are hateful. But the argument hangs itself on the word “speech.” We’re more likely to unanimously agree that vandalism and acts of violence are terrible, but when it comes to similarly spirited language, hate suddenly becomes a matter of opinion.

One does not have to look further than Milo Yiannopoulos to assess the effects of hate speech. The alt-right agitator recently fell from grace when a video of his pro-pedophilia comments resurfaced. When someone defends his constitutional right to spew racist, misogynistic, transphobic and Islamophobic speech, but draws the line at pedophilia, is the issue really about free speech? This suggests that only certain kinds of speech merit a platform.

And sadly, this type of speech demonizes the marginalized. After the election, many Muslim and Hispanic Americans have been taunted by Trump supporters telling them that their “time is up.”

Many of those who defend hate speech do so out of a desire to be ideologically consistent in their defense of free speech. But they don’t recognize the need to tailor laws to new situations and circumstances. Progress does not come from looking to old documents. It comes from challenging authority or, in this case, language that subjugates others.
Written by: Jazmin Garcia — msjgarcia@ucdavis.edu

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